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Carl Paladino – the man to watch in November 2010

By J. DeVoy

“They say I’m too blunt.  Well, I am.”
— Carl Paladino, Sept. 14, 2010

Tonight, Carl Paladino cinched the Republican nomination for Governor of New York State.  Paladino, a lawyer-cum-real estate magnate in upstate New York, has had a storied past.  Before wading into the political realm, he would buy radio and print advertisements to air his grievances with people he disliked in New York, specifically local politicians in Upstate cities.

After announcing his candidacy, the Western New York media network obtained e-mails from Paladino, featuring racist photos and videos, pornography of all kinds, and general insanity.  In his own defense, Paladino described himself as “uninhibited and probably a little out of the box,” but “mean[ing] no harm to to anyone except the bad guys.”  He concluded his defense with “truth, justice, apple pie, motherhood, the wheels on the bus go round and round.”

Paladino’s campaigning extended into activities that could best be described as elaborate in-real-life (“IRL”) flame.  In Syracuse, Paladino used a man dressed as a chicken to insinuate his opponent, Rick Lazio, was afraid to debate him. (Famously, Lazio lost to Hillary Clinton in the 2000 senate race.)  Keeping with the avian theme of his tactics, Paladino sent a man dressed as a duck to “stalk” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo — a reference to Paladino’s charge that Cuomo has “ducked” questions about healthcare reform and other important issues.

A few short weeks before the primary, Paladino introduced his idea for the “Dignity Corps” — a modified welfare-to-work program.  Under Paladino’s vision, underutilized and empty prisons would be converted into centers where those on welfare and unemployment insurance can receive job training, state-sponsored work, housing and lessons in “personal hygiene.” (source.)  This proposal was, obviously, met with significant criticism by both Republicans and Democrats.

Now that Paladino has the backing of the New York GOP, he will be more visible for approximately two months.  Given the circumstances already surrounding New York’s Governor’s office – inhabited by a blind gentleman who recently signed the wrong state budget into effect after inheriting the office from a philandering Eliot Spitzer – the race should already garner national attention.  Paladino’s escapades will only give the media more fodder to follow and a greater reason to turn its eye toward the Empire State.

From a free speech perspective, I’m glad Paladino has the nod to go on to the gubernatorial election.  He’s a brash, controversial figure that will draw both intense support and vitriolic hatred.  As much as people might think his plans are insensitive and even reprehensible, the voters can make that decision now, rather than hypersensitive, triangulating political operatives.  This is New York State we’re talking about, and Carl may be relegated to his top-story keep in the Ellicott Square Building via electoral defeat, left to live the rest of his political career alone with his piles and piles of real estate money.

One thing appears clear, though: Paladino understands free speech.  He’s not afraid of making – and defending – pointed statements, as offensive or absurd as others may find them.  One hopes that he’ll extend this understanding to others as well, and there’s good reason, based on his own embrace of the First Amendment’s principles evidenced by his personal speech, that he will.  In the political forum, where words, expression and debate are so important, or at least supposed to be, this attribute is critically important.

For that reason alone, Carl, I’m with you.  I might not agree with everything you do and say, but your right to say it is vital.

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